This year, Rev. Tom Melvin and myself decided to reflect upon the meaning of Christmas, at the 10:00pm Christmas Eve service. We both recognize that Christmas means something different to each and everyone of us, and your answer may be different every time you are asked to answer the question. Below you will find my response to the question ‘What Does Christmas Mean to You?’. As we are still in the Christmas season, I invite you to reflect on that question too.
For some of us, that means family, food, gifts.
It means a house full of people, laughter in the air, wine feely poured, late nights. It means fire on, Christmas lights twinkling, people sleeping in all corners of the house. At least that’s my experience of Christmas growing up.
For others, Christmas means empty chairs around the table, brokenness, grief, loss and loneliness. It means a reminder of things gone wrong, hurt and pain, fear and rejection. It means a reminder of the things we can’t afford, credit cards maxed out, shame, guilt, high expectation.
Christmas means something so different to each and every individual. So, what does Christmas mean to me?
I believe strongly that the meaning of Christmas has been washed away by the commercials, the good deals, the jolly man in red.
The blow-up lawn ornaments, the Pinterest boards, the picture-perfect family photos.
I believe strongly that people get sucked into the vortex of pretty wrapping paper, sparkly lights, the need to please, and the expectation of having it all together.
I’m not saying I’m any better.
I get sucked in the vortex too.
This morning, Christmas Eve, I baked Christmas cookies, because I hadn’t had time to get them done yet, and well I didn’t have anything else to do today, but the expectation I put on myself is that I bake Christmas goodies.
I buy gifts to please my family and to ‘be part of the exchange’, even though we don’t need a damn thing.
I wrap my gifts in beautiful paper and ribbon, and brag about the fact that I’m done my shopping in November.
My husband and I have matching Christmas pajama’s because that makes for cute photos…and just wait until next year, when our baby is here.
But despite being sucked into the vortex, each year I ponder, what does Christmas really mean?
This year, Christmas has a whole new meaning for me.
As I’m pregnant and growing life inside me, I ponder the Christmas story and I can’t help but think of Mary.
A teenage girl.
I think of the aches and pains, the morning sickness, or all-day everyday sickness (because it’s a real thing) and I wonder who got Mary the glass of water, hair elastic and saltine crackers as she hugged the toilet seat.
I wonder what Mary thought as her body changed, her breast grew, her feet swelled.
Who rubbed her legs in the middle of the night when she experienced leg cramps?
How did she prepare for this child? Did she decorate a nursery? Make the adorable outfits?
Did she anticipate a painful, awkward donkey ride?
Could she have anticipated delivery in a barn?
I wonder if she pondered how her child would look, act, live?
There’s been a lot of discussion around the Christmas song “Mary Did You Know?”
“Mary Did You Know, that your baby boy, would one day walk on water, would save our sons and daughters, has come to make you new, this child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.”
“Mary Did You Know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man, will calm the storm with his hand, when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God”
Lyrically, the song rests upon the question “Mary, did you know?” and reflects on Christ’s earthly ministry.
But listeners have complained that, yes, Mary knew that she was going to bear the Messiah, the promised one and that, therefore, the rhetorical question upon which the song rests, is either redundant or condescending.
But the song invites us to peer over Mary’s shoulder as she rocks the Christ child to sleep,
As Mary rocked her baby to sleep, night after night, did she not wonder what it would all mean, how her child’s Messiahship would play out?
Luke 2:19 says, “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” It is fair for us to assume she had plenty of questions among those ponderings.
“Mary, Did You Know?” directs its curiosity to these dilemmas—not because Mary was ignorant of the facts—but because the Incarnation is much more than a doctrine, or an event, that can simply be accepted and understood. It is a mystery to be encountered.
The question “Mary, did you know?” is not a factual one but a rhetorical one. It opens space for contemplation, curiosity, and wonder. It invites us to witness the vulnerability of God, to meditate on the vastness of heaven contained in tiny fingers grasping for the comfort of his mother’s hand.
Far from diminishing Mary, it invites to look to her as we attempt to understand the mystery of the Incarnation. For who would know this wonder, this strangeness, and this beauty better than the woman in whose womb the Son of God grew.
So, this year,Christmas means wonder, curiosity, space for contemplation.
It’s an invitation to witness a miracle.
Christmas is not about gifts, it’s about being present with those around us.
Christmas is not about full plates, it’s about full hearts.
Christmas is not about giving stuff, it’s about giving time, energy, and love to those who need it most.
Christmas is about Christ breaking into this world.
It’s about finding hope, peace, joy and love in the midst of our chaotic and upside-down world.
It’s a time of healing, and renewed strength
It’s about saying YES to the invitation to God in our lives, just like Mary.